Weeds… or free source of nutrients?

We finally got a spot of sunny weather this weekend. I hunted down a hat, found my gardening gloves and headed happily outside to do some weeding… and somewhere my 10-year-old self, my 15-year-old self and even my 27-year-old self are laughing hysterically with disbelief as I write these words. 

I used to hate weeding when I was younger. it was one of those jobs that seemed completely futile, as you’d pull the dandelions, couch grass or wandering jew out of the garden bed or the gravel path – or tried to prise them out of the gaps in brick paths – and more of them would appear just a few days later.

Weeds growing on the old greenhouse site.

But all of this changed, a little over a year ago, when I got a compost bin. It had to be a tumble-style one, as we were renting and we needed something could be moved with us. Much of our raw kitchen waste went in there, including veggie scraps, fruit peelings and egg shells (no citrus, no alliums, no meats and no cooked foods), reducing the amount we threw into the bin quite significantly.

Then one day I someone say something (I think it might have been on Gardener’s Question Time, but I could be wrong) about not seeing weeds, but seeing compost that they haven’t collected yet. I thought about this and it’s true: the weeds are taking nutrients from the soil (that other plants could be using) and storing them themselves. No problems – I just wait for them to grow a bit, collect those nutrients for me and then grab them for my compost bin.

Clover, violets and plenty of other weeds

Once in there with the kitchen scraps, they’d break down and provide me with more organic matter for filling plant containers and, one day, building garden beds. These take a lot of organic matter, so the more I could generate myself from scraps and weeds (a free source, essentially), the better.

This whole decomposition process is assisted by earthworms – I’m still trying to figure out exactly how they got through the tiny, tiny gaps at the bottom of the compost bin. No wonder medieval scientists thought they materialised out of nowhere.

Removing some material for the compost bin

There’s plenty of material for me to work with in our new garden, courtesy of all the recent rain. Today, I dug some of the Cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata – it looks like a dandelion, but has more than one flower on each stem) out of the lawn and accumulated a nice large pile for the compost bin. When the grass finally dries out enough for G to mow, I’ll take all the grass clippings from the catcher and add those in as well.

However, I’m still debating what to do with the other plants growing in amongst the grass. I actually like clover – it’s great for bees and can help store nitrogen in the soil, which is particularly helpful on both counts in the orchard. I’m also not averse to the false shamrocks in the photo below.

False shamrocks (and other weeds) under one of the pear trees

Funnily enough, I was listening to podcasts of Gardener’s Question Time as I worked and a question came up on the Kent episode about weeds. Two comments from the panel stuck with me – the first was from Anne Swithinbank, who said that a weed is a plant that you don’t like in the wrong place.

The second was from Bob Flowerdew, who said another definition is that there is no such thing as a weed… these are just plants that we haven’t found the use for yet.

More false shramrocks

Well, I definitely have a good use for these as a source of nitrogen and other nutrients in my compost bin. So the clover and false shamrocks can stay (and be mowed from time to time) and I’ll keep extracting the Cat’s ears so they don’t completely take over the lawn.


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